It is easy to forget today that the Aam Aadmi Party was not always synonymous with Arvind Kejriwal. There was a time when he was only one of several party leaders, who all spoke their own minds and contributed to the establishment of the party. As the main face of the AAP in Delhi as it campaigned for and won power in the city he may have been the most prominent, but others such as Prashant Bhushan, Yogendra Yadav and Dharamvir Gandhi also counted.
The transformation of the party has been sudden and dramatic. Over the past two years, since the AAP assumed power in Delhi for a second time after a truncated first stint, leaders who have shown any sign of differing with Kejriwal have been purged. This means that the AAP is going into the upcoming polls in Punjab, where it hopes to achieve its first major victory outside the national capital, unable to field a single viable candidate for the chief minister’s post—since Kejriwal, already holding the chief ministership of Delhi, is not an option. A number of possible candidates, none of whom would have been happy to simply echo Kejriwal—such as Manpreet Singh Badal, Navjot Singh Sidhu and Jagmeet Singh Brar—have flirted with the party, only to find that they are not welcome.
While the speed of the AAP’s remaking has been unprecedented, there is nothing peculiar about its current condition. Almost every political party in India today is so modelled, with a single overwhelming leader at the helm. From J Jayalalithaa’s All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in Tamil Nadu to Parkash Singh Badal’s Shiromani Akali Dal in Punjab, numerous parties have undergone changes similar to that of the AAP, though usually over several decades. But while the AAP is part of this wider trend, the party’s specific nature means that Kejriwal’s dominance comes with particular implications for it.